Dirt Cheap Marketing

To tell you the truth, I had no idea that yesterday’s visit to Home Depot would be so different… so thrilling… so life-affirming.

And yet there I was, pushing a plastic carriage, minding my own business and heading outside to the “Garden” section. My goal? Dirt. Top soil to be exact. Enough to fill a couple of barrels so that we could grow tomatoes in the backyard this summer.

I turned the corner and hit paydirt (sorry). Piled high in the back were hundreds of 40-pound sacks of dirt. I wasn’t sure how many I needed. Four, maybe five, depending on the price.

Let me just stop right there and ask you, my dirt-shopping friend, how much do you think a 40-pound bag of dirt costs? Before you read any further, come up with a number (no peeking).

Got it? Okay, here’s what the Home Depot sign said: $1.25.

A dollar-twenty-five?! I couldn’t believe my eyes. That’s all? How, I wondered, was it possible to buy something – anything – in 2009 that weighs more than your average five-year-old child, for a mere $1.25?

You can’t buy a cup of coffee for $1.25. You can’t ride the subway for $1.25. Hell, you can’t even buy a ringtone for $1.25, and that’s just a sound. And yet, the fine people of Home Depot were willing to part with 40 pounds of mother nature for a buck and a quarter.

My day was looking up. I bought 10 bags ($12.50, plus tax) and rushed home to share the news with my loved ones.

Unfortunately, as I pulled into the driveway, the first loved one I encountered was my 13-year-old daughter, Emily, busily texting on her cell phone.

I said, “Put that thing away honey, wait until you see what I just bought at Home Depot.” I explained my happy discovery.

Emily, to her credit, waited for me to finish. Then, and just before turning and walking into the house, she said, “Why would you pay anything for dirt?”

Hmmm. Apparently, Emily was not as excited as I was. But it did get me thinking…

Isn’t it fascinating that the same fact – in this case, “40 pounds of dirt for $1.25” – could be the bargain of the century to one person and a complete snore to another?

And yet, that’s pretty much the way the entire world works. We don’t all value the same things (not even close), whether that’s food worth eating, places worth visiting, people worth knowing, or dirt worth buying. My gold is your garbage… and vice-versa.

Now take a look at the way you market your services. On which of the following activities do you invest more time and effort?

  1. Trying to convince people of your value. Things like enhancing your web site, refining your elevator pitch, polishing your marketing materials. Or…
  1. Finding and talking to the right people. Things like staying in touch with the people you know, asking for referrals from happy clients, targeting your newsletter (you knew I’d work that in here) to a particular audience.

You see I think #1, while generally the place where most companies focus their attention, often adds up to pushing bags of dirt on the Emilys of the world.

You can talk all day long about why it’s high quality dirt or what makes it better than the competing dirt. You can even cut the price (be still my heart). No matter what you do though, Emily’s not buying… your service’s value is zero when offered to the wrong audience.

If, on the other hand, you go out and find yourself a bunch of bald, middle-aged suburban guys who think they can grow tomatoes in a barrel and, who have no interest, by the way, in harvesting their own dirt, now you’re on to something.

With approach #2, not only can you sell a lot of product, when you find people with an intense need that you can satisfy, they will happily pay a lot more than the average dirt-buying consumer.

Here’s the bottom line. There’s no such thing as objective, one-size-fits-all value. Trying to convince the world at large of how wonderful your services are is a lot of work and not all that productive.

Instead, try paying more attention to uncovering – and staying in touch with – the people who are already predisposed to wanting you and what you have to sell. They’ll buy more and they’ll pay more. Who knows, maybe they’ll even brag to their loved ones about how fortunate they were to have found you in the first place.

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